The winery team at Printhie Wines in the Orange region of New South Wales had a nickname for the new premium wine they were working on. The ambition was to create a ‘super duper’ Chardonnay, they succeeded in more ways than one. Nathan Gogoll reports.
DREW TUCKWELL, the Printhie winemaker, said the winery’s new premium Chardonnay and Syrah are “relatively new and not that widespread”. The two wines were released about 12 months ago, but the winery has held back on the promotion because they are both tiny releases – just “two barrel blends” or about 60 cases.
They are Super Duper, both literally and figuratively. A 2012 Super-Duper Syrah and a 2012 Super-Duper Chardonnay. Both retail for $85.
“They are not the sort of wines you typically crack open and sit down to enjoy,” Tuckwell admits. “We never pour the Syrah for the wine media without decanting it because it’s not a wine that is immediately ready to drink.”
In fact, the way Tuckwell prefers for wine writers to look at the wine is to open it up and taste it across a couple of days.
“2012 was the first vintage for these wines and they came out of experiments and from us trying to push ourselves in the winery a bit.”
Tuckwell said that when he started working at Printhie in 2008 the wines on offer were priced across a flat range. He set about introducing a reserve range and then a flagship wine. It happened that two ‘super duper’ wines above the flagship Swift Family Heritage (the best red wine possible from estate grown vineyards) came about in two different ways.
The winemaker had been doing trials with premium parcels of Syrah to try to get different expressions from the fruit, this included playing with different percentages of whole-bunch ferments and different maturation times. But it was different for the super duper white.
“With the Chardonnay we were quite pleased with the wines we had been making, but we were doing regular Friday lunch wine options games and had benchmarked what we’d been making and we just set ourselves to make the best wine we could, a super duper Chardonnay,” said Tuckwell.
“We looked at everything to try and achieve that result, from fruit sourcing to oak selection and maturation. We ended up with a wine made in 70 per cent new oak, which was twice as much new oak as we’d ever done before.
“With the Syrah it was about finding a different result by changing what we were doing in the winery. It sort of made itself.
“But the Chardonnay was something we set out to do.”
“The name itself was a little bit of a funny story, we had set out to make great wines and the nickname for them in the winery ended up being Super-Duper – and that’s what it was all the way up until it came to bottling it and then it needs a label. We thought ‘why not’.
“We know it promotes a reaction, but as a bit of time has passed we’ve found that has become a more and more positive reaction. And people have been really positive about the packaging.”
Tuckwell said the label will remain an experimental outlet for the winery. To prove the point, the 2013 Chardonnay destined for the Super-Duper label has seen 100 per cent new oak, while the Syrah has seen hardly any.
“Initially the Syrah fruit was a small parcel of fruit from a patch of vines that were being converted from spurs to canes and the yield was low. But we’re not going to restrict ourselves to which parcel it is. It’s the same for the Chardonnay, we don’t have a ‘reserve block’ but we have access to four really good blocks.
“We had been doing different percentages of whole-bunch ferments with the Syrah, looking at the difference between zero, 10, 20 and 30 per cent. What you find with the whole-bunch is that you get less obvious, less extravagant fruit and a different tannin structure and different mouthfeel across the mid-palate.“When I first started in the mid-90s you almost never spoke about texture like that, but now any discussion about wine is centered on it.
“You know, we’re not actually employing anything new – we’re actually going backwards and looking at things that went out 40 years ago and things the guys in the Rhone never gave up.
“At one stage I ended up chatting to Tim Kirk about it and he said he was doing a bit of whole-bunch and I thought ‘bugger it, let’s have a go’.
“It’s one of those things that happens when winemakers travel and see how other people are doing things, instead of staying in their own goldfish bowl.”
Tuckwell said he’s not experimenting anywhere near as much as those making skin-contact white wines, red wines on skins for many months, or even ‘natural’ or ‘pet nat’ wines. But he’s happy some winemakers are pushing to the extreme, because it gives him some encouragement to step outside of the default ways of doing things.
“We’ve all been willing to be more open-minded, you don’t need to be philosophically aligned one way or the other – you can just have a go. I think it is all part of turning the image of Australian wine around, it’s all about interesting wines. And everyone can share the credit, even the small guys who do things completely differently. Sure, there are regional constraints we all have, but it’s a bit of fun.”